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Old 09-26-2014, 02:22 AM   #1
BradC
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SABR Member Chuck Hildebrandt: 'Knocked Out' By OOTP's Depth

Out of the Park Baseball and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) are the perfect couple, so it wasn't a surprise when Chuck Hildebrandt, SABR's Baseball and the Media Research Committee chair, chose OOTP for his Retroactive All-Star Game (RASG) series.

The idea behind the RASG series was to imagine that the All-Star Game began in 1916, rather than 1933, and then simulate the results of those contests through 1932. Hildebrandt set up online voting for each game, and Seamheads' Mike Lynch simmed the games and produced box scores and game logs on which Hildebrandt based his write-ups.

As Hildebrandt dove into OOTP for the RASG series, he "was very quickly knocked out by just how in-depth the game was," he told us. That led to another idea: What if baseball became popular in England toward the end of the 19th century? And thus The English Baseball League (est. 1888) was born.

Here's our Q&A with Hildebrandt:

Q: How long have you been involved with SABR?

A: I joined SABR back in 1988, and I was more or less a “lurker” member, just paying my dues and receiving the publications, until I launched the Baseball and the Media Committee in 2013. I launched their website earlier this year, at sabrmedia.org.

Q: What was the inspiration for the Retroactive All-Star Game series?

A: The idea for the Retroactive All-Star Game (RASG) project first occurred to me in February of 2013, when Baseball-Reference.com added splits back to the 1916 season to their excellent Play Index. Included were the standard 1st half/2nd half season splits, and the idea of putting together All-Star rosters based on 1st half stats immediately leapt to my mind. I jotted down this idea and set it aside.

About a year later, I was thumbing through an old Baseball Research Journal and came across an article about retroactive Cy Young Award winners, and later, an online article about retroactive Rookie of the Year awards, both going back to 1901 and featuring winners chosen by SABR member vote.

I Googled around to see whether there was a record of anybody ever having undertaken anything like a retroactive All-Star game project, or had written an article about the idea, and I found nothing. But in my research, I did find that between late 1914 and early 1916, Baseball Magazine had advocated for a midseason All-Star game (or more exactly, an All-Star series). The timing of the magazine articles lined up well with the availability of the splits data back to 1916 at B-R, and now there was a plausible historical context to go forward with the idea. This all struck me as kismet, and the RASG project was born.

Q: When and why did you start playing OOTP?

A: I’d dabbled in sim games here and there, and I do remember trying out an earlier version of OOTP many dozens of moons ago, but I threw myself full bore into it just last year as a result of my work on the Retroactive All-Star Game for the Society of America Baseball Research (SABR). Part of the project was the ability for people to vote online for the starters of the RASG games, and the votes took place and I rounded out rosters, I sent those to my project partner, Mike Lynch, who simmed the games.

I obtained a copy of OOTP for myself and rooted around it a bit. I saw how a gamer could start out by playing the 2013 MLB season, or how he could import any major league season into the game and play that, or import any number of real-life foreign league seasons. But I also saw how a gamer could create a fictional league from scratch, choosing to imbue the league with just about any rules he can imagine, and also with the ability to put the league in any country in the world and play it in any era, including the future. The future, for Pete’s sake! And I thought, how cool is that?

Q: What is your history playing baseball sims, including videogames and any card-and-dice ones like Strat-o-Matic?

A: None, really. I was more of a ballplayer than I was a gamer or simmer. We did create a simple two-dice game when I was a little little kid (snake eyes and boxcars were both homers), and I did play an arcade baseball video game called World Series Baseball in the 80s. But nothing like Strat-o-Matic or Pursue the Pennant, not seriously anyway.

Q: What was the inspiration for your English baseball league?

A: I got the inspiration immediately once I realized how incredibly in-depth and detailed a gamer could make his fictional league with OOTP, and how exquisitely customizable such leagues are. But what made me decide to actually go forward with the idea was stumbling upon the Dynasty Reports sub-thread on the ootpdevelopments.com forum.

The vast majority of the dynasties posted there are major league-oriented in some way, but a few of the dynasties I saw that inspired me included the ISLANDIAN PRO ALLIANCE, European Baseball League, Bonjou Bezbol! (A Fictional Haitian Baseball Dynasty), and the excellent Koana Islands Baseball League. That last one was especially inspirational because the gamer had created an entire world and ecosystem around the league itself, which is what I wanted to accomplish with mine if I were going to do it. When I saw these leagues posted, and I realized a Britain-based baseball league was not only possible, but could be done in an excellent fashion, I knew I had to seriously look into it. I understand this kind of completely fictionalized league based outside of MLB, or even the US, is not everyone’s bag, but it looked as though enough people were into this kind of thing to make it worth my while to follow through, play it out and then publish it. So I started working on it.

Q: Since this isn’t an MLB-based dynasty, what kinds of things did you have to do to prepare the league for starting up?

A: I did an incredible amount of prep work to get the League off the ground. It took me about a month of doing almost nothing else with my free time to study basically two things: the history of the English Football League; and the OOTP game itself.

Since my objective was to create as exact a parallel to the real-life Football League as I could, I had to try to become as expert as possible about that League as I reasonably could. I had to know what teams played in the Football League throughout its history dating back to 1888; what the divisions were, when they were formed, when they had expansion years and when the various clubs joined them; how many teams were promoted and relegated between divisions each year—those kinds of technical details.

But I also needed to learn other details like how much players were paid throughout the history of the League; what countries the players came from over time; what size players were over the years—stuff like that. I didn’t think it made any sense to launch an ethnically diverse league of players hailing from all over the world, standing 6’7” and weighing 285 lbs., playing in modern uniforms, sporting sculpted chin beards, playing 162-game seasons in front of 40,000+ fans per game and making tens of millions of American dollars per year—all in a league taking place in England in the year 1888. It simply wouldn’t pass the smell test. So I had to learn what those conditions were in real life at the time, and to make sure they were properly reflected in this dynasty.

And going back even further, I needed to learn how the professional game developed in England, so I could use that history to infuse maximum plausibility into the League’s creation story, which I authored and presented in the first four posts of the dynasty thread.
Of course, none of this would matter if I couldn’t actually play out the dynasty in the game itself, so I had to learn the ins and outs of OOTP itself before I ever played a single game or published a single post. I needed to go deep under the hood to learn exactly how to make OOTP run the League in a way that would be as faithful to real-life history as it could possibly be.

To learn the game to that level of depth, in addition to spending hours looking over every screen under Game Setup, I signed up for the online forums at ootpdevelopments.com and just started peppering the folks there with questions about how the game works. The guys who habituate the forum are awesome and very forthcoming with help. And of course, the online manual filled in a lot of knowledge gaps, too. If these two outside resources weren’t available—if I had to try to figure out what to do all on my own, without this kind of help—there’s no way this thing ever gets off the ground.

Q: The level of detail in your dynasty, at least in your posts, is pretty astonishing. How do you customize your league to get that kind of detail?

A: Wow, it might be a shorter answer if you asked me how I do not customize the League! I customize practically everything, because the league structure of English Baseball (as a parallel to English Football) is completely different from MLB. For instance, there’s no amateur draft—only free agents that any team can sign at any time. There are no affiliated minors—only reserve rosters (although I’m thinking of adding academy teams down the road). Crowds and ticket prices were a lot smaller, as were wages—in fact, the Football League had an official maximum wage in place until the practice was overturned in court in 1962.

Players were on average about four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter 100 years ago than today. There were almost no black, south Asian or East Asian players in English football until the ‘60s, and the vast, vast majority of players came directly from Great Britain itself until the ‘80s. There was no media money until the late ‘40s and no merchandising revenue until probably the early ‘50s. No MLB-style free agency, no international draft, no 5-and-10 rules, no All-Star games, no Hall of Fame. There were no night games and no Sunday games until the 50s. There was no Northern Ireland until 1922—only one big Ireland. Stuff like that.

There are dozens of other examples, but the point is, I can control all of these variables in OOTP. Plus, as the League evolves over time, I can change these and other key details, such as strategic tendency changes, average attendances and salaries, team names, team color changes and uniforms (provided by my forum friend Brad Miller, who goes by the screen name No Pepper—thanks, man! Great work!), stadium names and capacity changes. OOTP has incredibly deep and detailed tools that allows me to do all this.

For me to manage these changes on a season-to-season basis, I developed a season process checklist (now with 46 steps!) to make sure that I am making all the micro-changes to the League within the game options between seasons to keep it realistic and believable as the League moves through time.

OOTP is not 100% perfect for what I need to do. I wish I could do player transfers rather than trades, which don’t exist in England, to move players between teams, so I had to give in on that one and allow trading. And I wish there was actual promotion and relegation available, as well as the ability to do separate tournaments during the regular season so I could run a League Cup tournament and keep records separate from regular season and end of year playoffs. But even so, I will say that OOTP is 99 and 44/100% perfect, and that’s more than close enough!

Q: Which team do you control in the league?

A: None. I play “God” in this league. I create the teams and then allow them to use their AI-directed free will to do what they want. It works out surprisingly well. Some clubs become mini-dynasties and contend year after year; some clubs are perennially terrible and threaten to be (or actually are) voted out of the League year after year. Other clubs bounce up and down between divisions and the standings, while some take up residence in mid-table for years on end. I think it’s pretty close to what happens in real life.

Q: So if you don’t have a team you control, how do you play out the league’s games?

A: I play out entire seasons at a time in commissioner mode. Before a season starts, I write a pre-season story and post it to the dynasty thread. By the way, whenever I write an article that is intended to read as though it were written at the time, I peruse several articles about association football that were published that year in English newspapers, a service my library subscribes to.

Sometimes I lift entire passages from those newspapers and repurpose them from football to baseball; most of the time I have to write the articles myself and make it sound as though they were written for an English newspaper in, say, 1920. So to get the tone and the language right, in addition to reading newspaper stories from the era, I frequently consult Google Ngram Viewer, the OED online dictionary, and a few Wikipedia articles comparing British and American language usage, in addition to relying on what I just happen to know about British English in my head. Plus, my Google Chrome and Microsoft Word are set up to spellcheck in British English rather than American English. And when I post such articles, I post them in Georgia font to differentiate them from my “OOC” posts in regular font.

I also post basic results for the season as well: customized league home pages featuring summary articles; league standings; Cup winners and promoted teams; team hitting and pitching tables; league leaders; awards winners; top players; top game performances; top “minor league” (actually reserves) systems; and financial reports. The cool part of the financial reports is that everything is in pounds, with a £ sign, instead of dollars with a $ sign. Markus made me a version of the game with the £ sign in it, and I really appreciate it and thank him very much for that. If there are interesting games to note, I download the data, parse it with an Excel pivot table, and query it for unusual events. Then I screen-grab the box score and write a story about that as well. I also post articles when the very greatest players announce their retirements, such as when Frank Hodder did this past season of 1919.

One other thing to note: In addition to posting about league play, I have also created an ongoing narrative that contemplates things happening within and outside of baseball during this time, such as the unionization of players and the fight for better wages; the introduction of the first players in the League from other countries, including Canada and the United States; real British-born major leaguers from the early 20th century coming back home to play in the Baseball League, as well as players who start out in the EBL and then go to America to become real-life major leaguers; the controversy over playing Sunday matches; the debate about sharing gate receipts with the visiting team; how baseballers supplement their wages during the winter; the possibility of additional divisions being created; the introduction of the entertainer “benefit” match; the deaths of Queen Victoria and King Edward; and of course, World War I and its impact on the League (i.e., it was suspended for the War) and its players (many died and many more were too wounded to continue their careers).

These were all issues that came up in real life for footballers and their League—I wanted to replicate these circumstances for baseballers and this League as well. I believe such stories can be just as interesting as posts about what club wins the Emperor of India Cup or which player wins Baseballer of the Year. I believe these stories provide a broad realistic context through which a reader can enjoy the story of the English Baseball League.

Q: What is your eventual goal for the league? What do you hope to accomplish in the end?

A: There are two things I really want to accomplish, or take away, from running the League. The first is to play the League all the way up to the present day, which by the time I get there, at the current rate of playing one season per week, will probably be at least 2016, and perhaps even 2017. If I am motivated, I may take it beyond. But I have to get there first. Let’s see whether I actually make it.

But the main thing I really want to accomplish, more than anything else, is to achieve a public perception of complete plausibility for this dynasty. By which I mean, I want the people who read my dynasty thread, those who invest their time and attention to the story of the League, to come to the conclusion that an English Baseball League could have happened in exactly this way in real life, at exactly this time, with exactly these players and these clubs, and could have done so in parallel with cricket and football. The stories need to feel real as you read them, from the events that happened to the unique way in which those events are being described. It takes a lot of work to ensure this happens, but the positive comments I have received from people replying to the thread, especially from those who have generously said that this is one of the best dynasties they have ever read, really makes it all worth it.

Q: What are some of the most interesting things that you've seen happen while playing OOTP?

A: I have seen many interesting games and situations occur in the league:

Players:

Q: How long have you been a baseball fan and who is your favorite team?

A: I became a baseball fan when I was made aware of the fact that the Detroit Tigers were well on their way to the 1968 world championship. I was seven at the time. I threw myself completely into Tiger fandom the following year when I saw that baseball made prolific use of numbers, which I was addicted to since I was a little kid. My first live game at Tiger Stadium was against the Texas Rangers on my 11th birthday. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I saw Ted Williams on the field as the manager of the Rangers. I have seen 900+ major and minor league games in person since then, and I am currently a 16-year Cubs season ticket holder, which has given me a seat at some of the most famous games and rarest moments in baseball history, such as the “Bartman Game” in 2003; LaTroy Hawkins striking out the side on nine pitches in 2004; and, just recently, the “Tarp-Gate” game against the Giants. Even though I am a Cubs season ticket holder, I am a Tiger fan first and foremost. So while the Cubs may have my wallet, the Tigers have my heart.

Q: Anything else you'd like to discuss?

A: I’ve already said way, way too much. I’m actually kind of hungry, so if you don’t mind, I’m going downstairs for lunch.
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Last edited by Andreas Raht; 09-27-2014 at 07:30 AM.
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Old 09-26-2014, 02:40 AM   #2
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Great interview by Brad and fabulous work by Chuck.
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So much for personality. Albert Belle, a complete nut job was never traded and was the highest paid player in the game, twice!
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Old 09-26-2014, 10:28 AM   #3
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Thanks for the opportunity to be featured here, Brad. It was a stone groove, my man!
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Old 09-26-2014, 06:30 PM   #4
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I'm seriously impressed. Your dedication to detail is awesome.
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Old 09-29-2014, 09:28 PM   #5
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Thanks for posting this, Brad.
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Old 10-01-2014, 10:55 AM   #6
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Cool interview, Chuck! I think I am inspired to get back to my Polska Liga.
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